by Jennifer M. Hall
SFUSA Ark Committee
When the RAFT (Renewing America’s Food Traditions) project offered seeds last winter, I was faced with decisions. What to grow? Trim the list from 40 dreams to 20 realities. Tomatillos leapt off the list in the top five. Always a fan of green salsa and pork chili verde, I had plans for these fruit known historically as the Zuni Tomatillo and now on the Ark as the New Mexico Native Tomatillo (NMNT).
My boyfriend and I nurtured the starts along under the basement grow lights and put them in the ground at the first opportunity. Spokane, WA has very desert-like conditions with dry air, hot days and cooler nights, so I was hopeful they would do well. They quickly proved they need their “own space.” I staked and tied mine like a tomato plant; Eric did not and they swarmed some other rows.
The early yellow blossoms gave way to countless husk-encased fruits. Mine grew fairly tall and brought a little romance to my back patio, looking like a tree dotted with hundreds of Chinese lanterns. Compared to a more mainstream variety, the NMNT tapers more to the bottom point of the husk.
Harvest time shows the real commitment in a tomatillo grower, particularly this kind. Lots of little fruit (on average, the diameter of a nickel), somewhat unwieldy bush, not very well-known, what will it taste like? Some of Eric’s will make great compost, but overall I was proud of what we picked and honestly glad we didn’t plant more!
So was it worth it? Cooked down into a sauce over wild salmon, pickled with peppers and in salsa, the flavor proved tremendous! In side-by-side tastings with a larger purple tomatillo and the Aunt Molly’s ground cherry that our convivia members also grew, the NMNT was a big winner. Big aroma and almost a melony fruit flavor. Definitely earning its space on the Ark and definitely earning another go in my garden next year.